Like many I suspect, I’ve been listening to the Stone Roses a fair bit over the past 12 hours. It’s the same reaction caused by the news of REM’s split, a prompt to revisit part of my past that hardly figured on a daily basis. Yet part of my past it certainly was, a moment in time over 20 years ago that had a profound effect on my musical direction. The Stone Roses came into my life thanks to a guy I met while at college in Reading, the publisher of a photocopied fanzine that generally featured local bands – including Slowdive in their pre-shoegaze, goth phase as the Pumpkin Fairies. His was a judgement that I came to trust, so when he began to enthuse about a Manchester band called The Stone Roses it became clear that they warranted further investigation. Not that he was a lone voice in the wilderness of course, but it has to remembered that their rise to success was a great deal more organic than would happen these days.
Indeed the release of The Stone Roses in April of 1989 hardly stopped the world in its tracks, peaking at number 32 in the UK charts. Listen back to it now, however, that record that I bought on vinyl from WH Smiths (still not quite sure why, although a token may have been involved) and you can see why yesterday’s reunion announcement is such a big deal for so many. Although lumped in with the Madchester and Britpop movements, they predated both and were a step ahead musically as well. It would be untrue to say they broke any new ground, but that debut stole from what had gone before and made it their own. Aligned with the move towards dance music, sequencers and drum machines played no part in the process, with the trio of John Squire, Mani and Renni more than capable of finding a groove from traditional rock instruments.
Two months after the album’s release, the band embarked on a UK tour that included a show at the Majestic in Reading. I remember the date well, 6th June – my 20th birthday. I also remember that I went alone, having failed to persuade any of my friends to come along. But that’s about all I can tell you. It was very, very loud – the venue would lose its licence over the show – yet sadly not particularly memorable aside from that. I think I left early, driven out by the wall of noise.
The story of band’s rise and fall after this has been well documented but bears repeating. The release of the ‘Fool’s Gold’ single (complete with superb B-side ‘What The World Is Waiting For’) cemented their status, as did live shows at the Blackpool Empire Ballroom and – less successfuly – Spike Island. They had the world at their feet, as documented by Stuart Maconie’s excellent NME cover story, and nothing could stop them. Nothing, it seems, but the band themselves who took themselves off for five years before releasing an unloved second album, losing two members and dying a death at Reading Festival.
Now I have the opportunity to make up for it and see them again next year, if not at Manchester’s Heaton Park but on a world tour that looks set to include an Irish date if yesterday’s comments are anything to go by. The reunion that looked set to never happen is on, 15 years of animosity solved in the space of two phone calls. Should we be dancing in the streets? I’m not so sure. The reasons for the comeback are predictable – the resurrection of a friendship, current music’s need of the band, a desire to put right past mistakes – but the results are by no means guaranteed.
The proof will come when they step on stage next June in their home town, although there is no avoiding the one overriding problem. Two years ago we reviewed Ian Brown’s major homecoming show in the city and it wasn’t pretty. No matter how the trio of musicians behind him perform, the band will stand or fall on the singer’s showing and the chances of him pulling it off are slim. Perhaps we should just live with our memories of a band who were bursting with youthful arrogance and energy, of a set of songs that are still untouchable. The Stone Roses let us down once before, to do it again would be unforgivable. The past is theirs but maybe the future should be left to others.